Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

Jobbbb: Bitter

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 23:1-9, 16-17

A question that I have become most fond of is, “What brings you joy?” And the great thing about this question is that after I listen to the answers of my friends and family, I have a chance to answer myself. Somedays my answer – and the answers from my conversation partner(s) – comes swiftly. Other days…not so much.

I would not say that I like to complain…but I find myself complaining more than I should. I have learned there is a difference between complaining and venting. When I vent I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and they are released. I state them and I move forward. When I complain I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and then I repeat them. Nothing changes. Nothing resolves. I do not move forward.

The consequence of the toxic cycle of complaining is bitterness. My outlook, my attitude, my interactions with others all sour and suffer. I become like Job. I want answers. I seek them. And at times the only answer I receive is deafening silence.

And yet…

Complaints pale in comparison to our joys. Complaints have a nasty way of obscuring joy and, through that obscuring of joy, they deprive us of joy. Now, I am not suggesting that we all start complaining about our complaining…that will not get us anywhere! But I am suggesting that we each take time to name what brings us joy.

I invite you into a time of reflection. What has been the topic(s) of your recent complaints? I encourage you to write them on a sheet of paper. For every complaint, I invite you to (1) write out something that brings you joy and then (2) begin to brainstorm ways that you can address your complaints. Perhaps after reviewing your list you may be able to easily identify steps that will lead those complaints to positive resolutions. Perhaps after reviewing your list all you are able to do is write PRAY in big bold letters. Once you identify ways to address your complaints, act on them. Take one at a time, but take action. Move forward.

My husband, my niece and nephew (first time saying that!), my family, my puppadoos, the growth in my yoga practice, the continued stewardship of our church, Tuskawilla’s faithful and faith-filled leadership, God’s call on my life, my mentors, my dear friends, and pumpkins – yes, even pumpkins, bring me joy.

What joys will you name today?

Release your complaints. Do not be overcome by bitterness. Unleash your joy.

Prayer: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me, whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee? Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”* Amen.

*”Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal 351.

Jobbbb: Battle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 1:1, 2:1-10

While in seminary I was introduced to the concept of spiritual warfare. When a person engages in spiritual warfare he or she takes an active stand against devils, demons, and/or other supernatural (meaning unbound by the laws of physics) or preternatural (meaning they are sourced in unknown places) forces.

At first introduction, I did not think much of spiritual warfare. I did not feel that I had experienced it in my life. But as I grew in awareness of it and talked with friends that believed they experienced it, my paradigm shifted and expanded.

In my experience I have seen people – as well as myself! – blame the devil or demons as the cause of their (my) transgressions. The devil or demons became the scapegoat. “The devil made me do it.” No, the devil did not make me do it; I chose to do that. And there are consequences for this and every choice. This personal awareness – and taking responsibility – was a huge eye-opener for me. My personal awareness helped me grow in accountability for my actions to God, myself, and others.

In my experience I have also witnessed the horror of evil in this world – evil that causes immense suffering – gun violence, substance abuse, infidelity, debilitating diseases, and prejudice. I have witnessed moral evil, natural evil, and radical evil. Sometimes I am able to “put my finger” on the root of the pain; that provides comfort and at least a place to focus actions of compassion and correction. At other times I am unable to put my finger on the root of the pain…it just “is” and that it “is” breaks my heart.

When will it end? Why does it happen? Where are you, O God?

I confess that my faith is not as strong in these times. I become angry. I doubt. I fall to my own pride thinking I will just take matters into my own hands, when really the only thing I should be left to doing alone is taking myself to lunch – and somedays I am not even successful with that.

It is interesting to see how Job engages in spiritual warfare – how Job takes a stand against the evils inflicted upon him and the suffering that it causes. He does not “raise his dukes” or “dig in his heels” in order to steady himself to fight back. He sits in ashes. He questions but does not accuse. He wonders aloud – perhaps rhetorically – “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 2:10b)? Scripture tells us Job did not sin with his lips (2:10c). I believe he sensed God’s presence with him. He knew that God was walking with him…and as long as God continued walking, so would Job.

A song that some of my beloved students taught me is You Fail Us Not by 1,000 Generations. When I think of the trials in my life, I give thanks for God’s continued presence with me.

I invite you to listen to this song. Give thanks. In life – and especially in the battles – God fails us not.

Prayer: Holy God, “You’re bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle, you are bigger than the battle has ever been. Whatever will come, we’ll rise above, you fail us not, you fail us not. No matter the war, our hope is secure, you fail us not, You fail us not. You fail us not.”* For this, and so much more, we give you thanks. Amen.

*”You Fail Us Not” from 1000 Generations.

PictureLent ~ Resurrection

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 16:1-8

Holy Week is a marathon, not a sprint. We gathered at the starting line last Sunday – there was even a parade! We waved palm branches and children sang. We worshipped and then we were benedicted to continue our walk to the cross.

Most of us anticipated reaching the cross on Friday, but it showed up Sunday afternoon as we learned one of our sisters in Christ in the Tuskawilla family passed away. The parade was over. The mourning began.

As a pastor when I learn of a death in the congregation I immediately go into work mode. Phone calls to make – visits to complete – information to gather – services to coordinate. This work also accomplishes compartmentalizing the grief process. As long as I work and stay busy the grief stays at bay.

When I find stillness and quiet up the grief wells.

Wednesday morning I went to yoga as I usually do and during my practice my teachers settled me into sleeping pigeon, which looks like this. Sleeping pigeon is an introspective pose as your gaze is towards your heart-center, the core of your being. It is also a deep hip stretch and release. Once settled I began to breath deeply and my tears began to flow. Reclined on the floor I wept. I wept for Lori. I wept for Ann. I wept for our congregation. I wept and asked only one question.

Why?

Reclined in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus grieved. Jesus wept. According to the Third Gospel writer Jesus was in such anguish that his sweat was like drops of blood (Lk 22:44). “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying…My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me” (Mt. 26:37a and 39b).

In the quiet of the garden Jesus probably asked “Why?” He probably confessed his confusion and his inability to understand. He possibly even felt anger that his questions remained unanswered. Pondering, seeking, praying, Jesus turned inward. Inhaling and exhaling into the very center of his being Jesus found his answer. “Not what I want but what you want…let it be what you want” (Mt 26:39c and 42c).

In the face of grief and imminent tragedy Jesus kept walking. And we will keep walking – aware of our loss, aware of our pain, aware of our unanswered questions, and aware of our God’s continued faithfulness. Our Christ walked toward the cross accepting all of the world’s pain as he did. At the ultimate place of defeat Jesus is forevermore our victor. Sunday is coming and resurrection is real.

Lori loved Jesus and his church, this church, Tuskawilla. Lori has gone on ahead of us into glory and is helping to make room for all of us at the table. Because of Jesus’ obedience – “obedience to death, even death on a cross” – we will join her and all God’s children at the heavenly feast Jesus continues to prepare (Phil 2:8). The casseroles will be abundant. Even more so, God’s grace and peace and joy will be abundant. There will be no grief. There will be no tears. There will be no reason to ask “Why?” There will be Jesus and those whom he loved. Lori will be there…and we cannot wait to see her.

Prayer: “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.”* Amen.

*”Ah, Holy Jesus,” The United Methodist Church 289.

Collect Moments With God: Do

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 10:12-22

The “Do” of the Collect prayer form is the petition portion of the prayer.  Contained in the petition is a double “do” – (1) what we want God to do which in turn will (2) lead us to do for others.  For example, “Show us mercy (God do this) so that we can show mercy to others (we will do for others).”

But what about the times when you do not feel you can do one more thing?  Those times when you feel like more things are being “done” to you and I am not talking about a day at the spa, shopping spree, or tickets to see your favorite team take on their biggest rival.  I’m talking about those days when you have two flat tires on the side of the highway and it is pouring down rain and the bolts are so tight on your tires that the tire iron will not loosen them and you are two hours late arriving to an event two hours away.

I’m not speaking from experience…but events like these come close to a day that Andrew lived a few months ago.

It is moments like these where we feel like all of this junk is being “done” to us and it jades us from wanting to “do” anything at all.  Or if we do anything…it is for “me”.  Human nature is to defend and secure ourselves when we feel under attack.  Thoughts of caring for others quickly disappear.  Like a turtle we shrink back into ourselves.

Sometimes the question of “why is all this junk being done to me” can be answered.  There are causes and the “done-ness” is the effect.  But sometimes we ask that question and the answer we receive is silence.  We do not know why.  What we do know is that God has been here before.  God has been here with God’s people – not understanding, asking why, feeling used and abused, feeling frustrated, feeling angry, wanting to care only for self, consumed with survival and not turning an eye to the revival of others.  God has been here before – and God has seen God’s people through time and time again.

I treasure God’s love letters to God’s people contained with the Torah – like our text for this week.  The words of these love letters bring incredible assurance:

“Remember, you were once a slave and stranger in a foreign land and I brought you out of that.”

“Remember, there was a time when all of this junk was being done to you and I was your constant companion, your hope, your guide.”

“Remember, there has never been and there never will be a time when I will not do for you…and because I do, you will do also.”

Junk happens.  Junk is done to us.  Sometimes we can control it and sometimes we cannot.  So lament the junk and let it roll off your back.  As my colleague Lisa says, “Breathe in the goodness of God and exhale the garbage.”  I am sure we will question “why” junk happens and is done to us for the rest of our lives…but we will never have to question whether or not God is with us in it and if God will lead us through it.  Our God is faithful.  Our God does for us.  And in gratitude for all God has done and continues to do, we are invited to do for others.

Prayer: “All who love and serve your city, all who bear its daily stress, all who cry for peace and justice, all who curse and all who bless: Risen Lord, shall yet the city be the city of despair?  Come today, our Judge, our Glory, be its name, “The Lord is there!”* Amen.

*”All Who Love and Serve Your City,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 433.

New Creation: Treasure In Clay Jars

[My apologies, The Sunday Stiletto Readers!  It has been a crazy busy week so I am very much delayed in posting this blog.  I hope you enjoy and look forward to the next posting in a few days!  Blessings!]

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 4:5-12

Some of my fondest memories growing up are from the time I spent in United Methodist Youth Fellowship.  While I was in high school I had the privilege of serving in the Youth Praise Band – I strummed the bass, sang, and dabbled a little in guitar.  One of the first songs I learned to play was Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans.

The bridge of Trading My Sorrows sings and elaborates upon a very important part of this week’s Scripture passage from II Corinthians 4 – “I’m pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  I’m blessed beyond the curse for His promise will endure and his joy is gonna be my strength.  Though the sorrow may last for the night His joy comes in the morning!”  The tempo and drum beat would drive through the first two sentences, drop out around “though the sorrow may last for the night,” and then build again to ring in God’s joy that arrives at dawn.  This section was always my favorite.  I couldn’t help but smile when I sang it.  I couldn’t help but revel in the assurance of God’s promise.

The rest of Evans’ song is profound as well.  The verse sings, “I’m trading my sorrows.  I’m trading my pain.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.  I’m trading my sickness.  I’m trading my shame.  I’m laying them down for the joy of The Lord.”  The chorus affirms “Yes Lord!” I will do these things – I will lay them down and claim your joy.

In studying this week’s passage and reflecting on this song, I am aware that this passage speaks about and song sings about sufferings.  Sorrows, pain, sickness, and shame are sufferings and cause sufferings in this life.  Both admit that life is not a bed of roses.  Both recognize that there are thorns (if you will allow the metaphor) and, at times, those thorns cut deep.  Suffering is part of the human condition.  For people of faith, suffering is also part of our faith experience.  Having faith does not make us immune from suffering.  If anything having faith probably leads us to more questions about suffering – leads us to ask why.

Asking why is not a fissure in our faith.  Asking why does not challenge or weaken our faith.  I think asking why is a sign of faith – a sign of faith seeking understanding within our relationship with God.

As Christians we can ask why sufferings occur.  The answer is because there is evil in the world.  God did not create the evil.  God is not the cause of the evil.  I believe much of the evil that causes the suffering we experience is the result of individuals or systems of individuals abusing God’s good gift of free will.  So what do we do about our suffering?  Or more to the root, what do we do about the evil?  We respond to it with compassion and charity.  We transform it with justice and accountability.  We imbue it with empathy, love, and hope.

My biggest challenge is to lay down sufferings.  When I am asked about my day, more often than not, I quickly jump to my sorrows.  I carry sorrows for such a long time.  Doing so deprives me of joy and shields me from the beauty of God’s mercies that rise each morning with the sun.

I need to lay down my sufferings.  I need to claim God’s joy.

Yes, Lord.

Prayer: “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.  Great is thy faithfulness!  Great is thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 140.